Transcript - Doorstop interview, Queanbeyan

June 3, 2015
Transcripts

TRANSCRIPT OF THE MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS

THE HON MALCOLM TURNBULL MP,

PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS, THE HON PAUL FLETCHER MP,

AND MEMBER FOR EDEN MONARO, PETER HENDY MP

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

QUEANBEYAN

 

Subjects: NBN, citizenship, Budget 2015.

E&OE………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

PETER HENDY:

Well I’d like to welcome the Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, and Parliamentary Secretary, Paul Fletcher, to Queanbeyan today in Eden-Monaro. Across the electorate obviously there are always the perennial issues like health or roads that come up every year. But communications is one of the top issues that is raised with me as a Federal Member of Parliament. And we’ve got a very good story to talk about with respect to the NBN as it is rolled out across the electorate. I’m very, very happy that the Minister has been able to come here today to tell us about developments. Thank you Malcolm.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well thanks very much and it’s good to be here with my Parliamentary Secretary as well, Paul Fletcher. Can I just say this is a watershed in the development of the NBN because, as you know, we publish the rollout figures every week. And so for the first time we are announcing that there are over one million premises, in fact 1,011,973 premises, which are serviceable. That is to say where people either have a service – there’s about four hundred and fifty odd thousand in that category - or where if they call up their RSP, their telco, the NBN will connect them within, between a couple of weeks, and a month. So in a prompt time.

Now this is a very significant development compared to the position on the 8th September 2013 when there were only 275,000 premises in that category. So the NBN is getting rolled out across Australia in both fixed-line, in fixed-wireless and of course we have an interim satellite operating at the moment with only about 38,000 customers and it will be overtaken next year, replaced next year, with a long-term satellite service with vastly superior capacity. Now it’s interesting, numbers and statistics can sometimes be used to confuse. And we’ve tried very hard to ensure that the numbers we have put out for the NBN are meaningful. So that’s why we focus on – we put out a lot of numbers obviously the company is very transparent – but what we really focus on are the number of premises where people actually do have a service, or if they want to, where they can get a service if they ring up.

Now just to give you a comparison of the sort of Orwellian, or should I say Conrovian, state of statistics under the previous government. Right now, at the moment, we state that there are 553,748 premises in built up areas like this which are serviceable, they’ve either got a service or they can get one if they ring up. If we included all premises which were in precincts which were ready for service it would be higher because about another 10 per cent of them cannot get a service when they ring up for various reasons. That’d be 607,000. That’s why we are very careful to distinguish between that. We want to be completely accurate and transparent. If however we slip into Conrovia for a moment, what the Labor Party used to do was talk about premises where construction had commenced or had been completed and they defined construction as commencing when design had begun. So the Labor figure today would be 1,528,033. Three times what is in fact the reality. And so you can see what we have done is bring some truth, some accuracy back into the way the NBN reports. Now just turning to this particular electorate there is a very good example here of what happened. Before the election the Labor Party announced that they had actually commenced construction on an area covering about 6,000 premises. That’s what the people of Eden-Monaro were told before the election.  In fact no construction contracts had been signed or were signed until February the following year.

So you can see the way in which in this remarkably Conrovian, Orwellian manner the previous Government was able to mislead people or set out to mislead people to exaggerate the progress of the network. So this is a very important day, the NBN is cranking on as you can see here in Queanbeyan and right across Eden-Monaro. It’s not just happening in built up areas like this but also there are 15 fixed-wireless towers under construction across the electorate covering over 4,000 premises and there will be more of that. Also Paul Fletcher, my Parliamentary Secretary has been working very hard on the mobile phone blackspots programme. You know that during the 6 years of Labor Government not one cent, not one, was spent by the Government to fund or part fund the remediation of mobile phone blackspots of which there are obviously a great many. We have committed $100 million to that. There has been a very thorough process that has been underway and we’ve said that we will be making announcements about which blackspots will be addressed before the end of this month. And that is going to be a very, very important announcement but I won’t pre-empt that by saying any more about it other than watch this space.

QUESTION:

Mr. Turnbull I might ask the inevitable question, and forgive me for it not being about the NBN, but how serious is a leak from Cabinet and what do you believe the personal and political consequences are?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well look I think that the leaks from Cabinet, leaks from Government, leaks from Cabinet Committees are very bad, they’re deplorable. The fact of the matter is you have got to be able to talk to your colleagues in a confidential fashion. And there’s nothing lacking in transparency about that but you’ve got to be able to have, you should be able to have a confidential discussion and then when a decision is reached there should be a formal announcement. I think there has been far too much of this over some time and I’m glad, you know it may be that this has all been a bit of a wakeup call and I think that part of the problem is that you can be misrepresented. You see, you see…

QUESTION:

Were you misrepresented? How well documented what you believed in Cabinet when it comes to citizenship, were you misrepresented?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Thank you. You've asked me about whether I've been misrepresented on citizenship. I'm not going to comment on the reports in the press, obviously. But only to say that you should not assume that they, that it is either a comprehensive, or an accurate or a complete account. Just let me go on, just let me deal with this because this is a very important issue. Issues of citizenship and national security are absolutely critical. It's hard to think of issues that are more important. In debates like this you're dealing with national security and the rule of law. Neither can exist without the other. You're dealing with fundamental issues.  But there is one specific national security issue that we're all aware of and we've been talking about. And I think it's important to be clear about it. And that is the concern that foreign fighters, Australians who have gone to fight in Iraq or Syria with Daesh would come back to Australia or could come back to Australia.

Now let me explain what the legal position is now. Under section 35 of the Citizenship Act, which has been in our law in that form since 1948, an Australian citizen who is a national of another country, who fights in the armed forces of another country – it may not be the same other country - against Australia, loses his citizenship automatically. So if you're an Australian who went and fought in the Korean War, joined the North Korean Army, his citizenship would be lost immediately. So you can see that as a matter of principle, and indeed as a matter of drafting, you're not actually going very far to look at section 35 and say well let’s modernise that in the real world, in the modern world, so that somebody who goes to fight for Daesh in Syria and Iraq who is in conflict with Australian armed forces is, loses their citizenship automatically. Now that is, and therefore obviously couldn't come back to Australia. Now that's very readily addressable.

QUESTION:

Are you concerned about the burden of proof and whether it can be up to a minister to determine whether that has happened or not; is that your principal concern?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Under the current law there is no ministerial discretion. If under the current law, if you take the North Korean War just as an example; if an Australian went and fought in the North Korean Army he would lose his citizenship automatically. Now he could, one assumes, apply to an Australian court and say either I wasn't fighting in the North Korean Army, it was somebody else, or my only citizenship is Australian. But the burden of proof would be on him.

QUESTION:

Can I take you to the next logical step though, what about removing the sole citizenship of someone on the basis that a minister might suspect that that person is a terrorist; is there any way under the rule of law that you believe that would stand?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well Chris that's an extremely good question and the answer to that is that the Australian Government's policy, as stated by the Prime Minister and the Immigration Minister and indeed I believe all ministers, is that we would not, we cannot, we do not render any citizen stateless. Section 35 of the existing law cannot render a citizen stateless because they've got to be a national of another country. So that is the law; we are party to a UN convention about statelessness which obliges us not to take actions to render someone stateless so, you know I think the answer to that is very clear.

QUESTION:

There is a grey area though with people who can potentially apply for dual citizenship, and that’s what the contention is at the moment. It’s in the discussion paper, and the backbenchers, forty-three or forty-four of them, have called for the Government to take that action. So what’s your view on that?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well we’re having a national conversation about that, and I think it’s important that we do. I may have some more to say about this - perhaps in even more length than one of my doorstops….

QUESTION:

[Inaudible] what’s your conversation, part of it?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well I think there are – there are very big legal and practical issues. But I just want to get back – let’s just get back to the – it’s very important to think clearly, express yourself clearly, and clearly analyse what is the big problem at hand. The big issue, the big national security problem that everyone’s talked about, is what is our ability to stop foreign fighters, Australian foreign fighters, like some of these appalling characters that have been so public in social media and so forth, from coming back to Australia. We don’t want them coming back to Australia, nobody does. I don’t. Paul doesn’t. Peter doesn’t. Nobody wants them coming back here. What I’m saying is, that you have a law - and you know in many respects an old law is a good law - you have a law that’s been on the books for decades and decades which with really just a modification, a modernisation, would result in those people, if they are dual nationals and apparently most of them are, their citizenship would be automatically terminated.

QUESTION:

So would it pass the High Court test do you think, that law change?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well it’s been, that law’s been on the books since 1948. I don’t know whether it’s – you know I’ve spent a bit of time in the Courts, including the High Court over the years, so [inaudible] I can’t see – I can’t see why it wouldn’t. I mean the objection is that somebody is, the issue is not to render somebody stateless.

QUESTION:

But on that next step, and in the words of Thomas Moore, would you knock down every door in the land to get at the devil or would you give the devil the benefit of the law for your own safety’s sake?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

We have to – Chris, I, you know like you, I’m a great admirer of Thomas More, but I’ll just say this to you - that people, everyone, every Australian, every Minister, every Member of Parliament, every Journalist, is committed to the National Security of Australia. But we’re also committed to the rule of law. And what is the rule of law – the rule of law means that the law applies to everybody. It applies to all of us, it applies to big companies, little companies, it applies to the Government. You see that – what is the essence of a democracy? Some people would say a democracy is one where the majority get to do what they want. That’s not a democracy, that’s a tyranny. The genius of a democracy governed by the rule of law, our democracy, is that it both empowers the majority through the ballot box and constrains the majority, its government, so that it is bound by law. Because otherwise you would have a situation, and this has been – why has the Arab spring failed - in many respects I think it’s because there has been a failure to understand that a democracy must not just empower the majority, and its government, but must restrain it. That’s why we have laws that restrain and restrict the actions of Government so that it is bound by the law. And getting that balance right in every debate.

I mean you cannot – look why does Daesh hate us, why do that want to kill us? Why do they want to kill and destroy our society? They want to destroy us because they hate the rule of law. They hate the fact that the government has to stand up, can be stood up by citizens and held to account. They hate the fact that we have freedom of speech. They hate the fact that we are a free society governed by law, not just by whatever the direction of one religious leader is from time to time. So our freedoms are absolutely critical and it is important that we have a debate about this.

But I just want to be very clear. Let me put this to you. I am not going to go into any further detail about this, but some people like to suggest that some people are tougher on terrorism or tougher on national security than others. Let me say this to you. Honest people, knowledgeable people, really well informed people can have very different views about what the right measures are on national security, and have very different views about the right balance between, say, citizenship and national security. You have only got to look at the countries we are very close with, say, the United States, the UK…

QUESTION:

Are there flaws in the UK model?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Just let me go on. If you are an American citizen born in the United States your citizenship cannot be revoked without your consent. It’s not possible, it doesn’t matter what you have done. In Canada – hang on – the Minister does have the power under new laws that only just came into effect to revoke citizenship of somebody that’s been engaged in terrorist activities, but they have to be convicted of an offence. Broadly the same is true in France. In Britain the Minister does have enormous discretion. Now all of these countries have got different laws and have come to different conclusions but each of them are equally, passionately, committed to the fight against terrorism. Committed to the national security of their own country.

So what we need to do is to make sure that we get the balance right, but in terms of national security and counter terrorism laws we have to do – and this is the Government’s commitment – it is not good enough that laws simply be tough, this is not a sort of a bravado issue, it is that they have got to be the right laws. You have got to get the measure right. And the point I make about section 35 is that you have a law that has been on the books since 1948. An old law is a good law. The principles are well understood, a modification to that would not deal with every issue but it would certainly deal with a dual national who was fighting in Syria or Iraq with Daesh.

QUESTION:

Just on another issue, another leak actually. ERC last night killed off the plan that Andrew Robb had floated to open up Australia’s northern skies to foreign airlines. What was your opinion on that plan and do you have any concerns that the plan as Andrew Robb had floated it was misrepresented in the ERC?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

There have been a lot of reports of leaks from the ERC, I am not a member of the ERC, I wasn’t party to the conversation. If I had been I would not discuss it anyway.

I know this sounds prissy in some respects but I don’t think we should be discussing decisions, debates, inside the Cabinet or committees of Cabinet like the NSC or the ERC. I think what we can do once a decision is taken, then an announcement should be made. It should be put on whoever the appropriate letterhead is and it should be made and the Ministers can speak for it.

QUESTION:

As a general principle then, what did you think about the plan to open up the northern skies to competition?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

I am not sufficiently…I don’t want to run a commentary on it, I would need to talk to Andrew Robb. Now is there anything else?

QUESTION:

[Inaudible]

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Sorry. Sorry.

QUESTION:

The Foreign Minister has categorically denied leaking any information from last week’s cabinet meeting. Are you willing to say the same thing and what should happen to that leak? Should they be kicked out of Cabinet?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, can I tell you, I don’t leak from Cabinet meetings. And I didn’t leak from the last one either.

QUESTION:

What should happen to the leak?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

That’s a matter for the Prime Minister but can I just say to you, we have to have a culture – not of secrecy. This is not a question of being secret, it’s simply a…we need a culture of trust and confidentiality so that people can have candid discussions and they may express views where they change their mind. Often, all of us have been in discussions I’m sure where you may have said something at the beginning of the discussion and then after listening to everyone else you change your mind. You’ve got to have an environment where you can have candid and confidential discussions and when decisions are taken then they should be announced. They shouldn’t be leaked, they shouldn’t be foreshadowed, they should be published in the normal way. I think this government is a transparent government, I’ve just been talking earlier before – I’m sorry there wasn’t more interest in it – I’ve been talking about the NBN. What we’re seeking to do with the NBN is, in a pretty complex project, and being as transparent as possible, nonetheless focus on the relevant statistics so that we don’t mislead people.

QUESTION:

What is a “Coming to Jesus Moment”? Do you have any idea?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well Jesus should be in all of our hearts.

QUESTION:

Mr Turnbull what I think you’re trying to say…

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

So you’re going to put words in my mouth? You must be a journalist!

QUESTION:

What I think you have said is that you want to see treason laws essentially updated but you’re uncomfortable with any Ministerial discretion.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

No I didn’t say that. I didn’t say that. Section 35 is not a treason law, by the way. I mean, you could say the conduct it refers to is treasonous. But what it does is, it’s a very simple section. You’ve got to be a citizen of Australia, number one, you’ve got to be a national or a citizen of somewhere else and you’ve got to be fighting in the armed forces of a country at war with Australia. If you tick those three boxes your Australian citizenship ends. It just ends automatically. Now that’s been the law since 1948. Now, obviously, Daesh claims they’re a state. We don’t recognise them as a state obviously, they certainly have armed forces I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. You don’t need to change that law very much so that exactly the same automatic termination, revocation of citizenship would occur if a dual national did that. Now, I can understand people who might say that’s not a good idea, it’s a bad idea or whatever. But again, and I’m taking a very conservative approach to this, an old law, it is often said, is a good law, because it has been around for a while, a long time, nobody said it’s a bad law so if you simply modernise that. Now that doesn’t deal with the whole of the problem, what do you do about people who are working for Daesh in Australia? You’ve got the issue of sole citizens Catherine McGrath canvassed. There’s a lot of other issues. But this particular point about Australian dual nationals who have gone to fight for Daesh in Syria and Iraq, can be dealt with by modernising section 35 and that is obviously one of the things that the government is looking at. The Ministers have noted that but I think it’s important to get in, to cut through the fog of attitudes and debates and reports of debates and instead just focus on what are the key issues and do so in a clear way.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible]

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

I’ll just take one more -

QUESTION:

Dennis Jensen said this morning that he thinks that Australian troops should take on a combat role in Iraq if the US and other coalition countries do the same. Do you think that that’s something Australia should consider?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, I’m the Communications Minister. I leave questions of defence issues to the Parliamentary Secretary, no I don’t.

PAUL FLETCHER:

Actually, can I just make one comment, just back on the NBN announcement, which is a very important announcement that we’re making, about getting to a key milestone and the benefits of the approach we have taken to the professional management of this company, putting in place a competent board, a competent management team, giving them clear direction and letting them get on and manage. And I just want to highlight one particular aspect of the announcement. The Minister talked about where we are up to in terms of the aggregate numbers. One of the numbers underneath that is where we’ve got to in terms of the fixed wireless, as at the election there were 39 000 premises that could be served with the fixed wireless network. We’re now at well over 200 000, in fact 220 000. So that is a very significant increase, more than a five-fold increase in the number of people who can get the NBN over the fixed wireless network. That’s just one element of the many elements in which the rollout is going significantly better than under the previous government because of the way the company is managing it and the direction that the company’s been given. And of course as the Minister said, that is important in electorates like Eden Monaro where as well as having these suburban areas which are served with, in this case fibre, also a number of areas in this electorate, country areas, are going to get the benefits of fixed wireless. And all around Australia where people are on the fixed wireless it’s been very well received.

QUESTION:

Mr Turnbull, Bill Shorten has brought on a vote in the House this morning on the Government’s small business package, but the government is voting against that vote being put. What sort of message does that send to Australia’s small businesses?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

I think the message that we’ve sent to Australian small business has been heard loud and clear. I mean, we have delivered a huge tax write-off, benefit, the $20,000 per item, $20,000 instant tax write-off; very accelerated depreciation in effect. And we’ve also reduced tax for small businesses. So I think what Bill Shorten is doing is, in a characteristically unconvincing way, is trying to play catch up. And it will be seen for what it is.

Can I make one final point, and then we should probably wrap it up. I think Paul Fletcher should be given a medal for getting us back on to NBN, it’s really an act of great gallantry in the face of overwhelming odds. Can I just make one point, this is perhaps a bit geeky for some of you. What Labor used to do was declare areas ready for service. So they’d go out and say “Yep! NBN’s here, it’s ready for service ladies and gentlemen”, and boast about it in parliament. Even when on occasions, 90 per cent or more of the premises couldn’t actually get a service even if they asked for one, they were what are called ‘service class zero’. Now, and in fact at the time of the election about a third of all of the premises passed by fibre in brownfield areas were ‘service class zeros’. Now, that’s been completely changed, it’s less than 10 per cent now. And we don’t declare premises ready for service unless we have at least 40 per cent of the premises have a lead in, so they’ve actually got a cable into their house and they’ll get connected within a couple of weeks, and another 40 per cent have Service Class 1, which means they don’t have a lead in but one can be installed and they can be connected within, currently it’s running at just under a month. Now that shows you a dramatically different culture. We are taking a businesslike approach to the NBN, we are getting on and doing the job, but most importantly, and we were talking about transparency and secrecy, we are actually telling the truth about it. We are being right up front about it.

QUESTION:

It’s a bit geeky though, isn’t it?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

It is a bit. This is the problem. I think I’ve answered your questions if not exhaustively at least exhaustingly. Thank you very much and see you soon.

[ends]

Recommended Posts